The final game of Group F at the MLS Is Back Tournament did not disappoint Thursday evening in Orlando, as LAFC and Portland fought to a 2-2 draw that saw them both advance into the knockout phase of the tournament. With the tie, Portland wins Group F and LAFC finishes second and will face the Seattle Sounders on Monday, July 27 at 8:00 pm PT (FS1, FOX Deportes, 710 AM, 980 AM), while the Black & Gold remains unbeaten in MLS regular season play in 2020.
Once again, LAFC started off the match slow and fell behind 0-1 on a Jaroslaw Niezgoda goal in the 7th minute. Bradley Wright-Philips continued his scoring streak, blasting a wicked shot from distance in the 36th minute to tie the match and become the first LAFC player to record a goal in each of his first three games with the Club. Just before halftime, Mark-Anthony Kaye gave LAFC a lead, heading home a perfect Brian Rodríguez corner, but after multiple changes in the second half, Portland tied the match in the 81st minute on a Jeremy Ebobisse header. The goal gave Portland first place in Group F and sets up a rematch of the 2019 Western Conference Final, where LAFC will attempt to get revenge on the Seattle Sounders.
“At the end of the night, we’re disappointed,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “We hate to give up a late goal. We just didn't do a good enough job of finding the third goal, of being sharp in the right moments and finishing the game that way. We showed a little bit of fatigue and when we made some changes, our ability to finish the game, that's where we let ourselves down.”
PLAYING FROM BEHIND
For the third straight game at the LAFC Is Back Tournament, LAFC found themselves trailing early in a match. Against Houston, the Black & Gold went down in the 9th minute, while vs. the Galaxy they found themselves trailing in the 5th minute. Against Portland on Thursday night, LAFC found themselves down 0-1 in the just the 7th minute when Jaroslaw Niezgoda broke through the defense and caught goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega too far in front of the goal.
“We started the game poorly, too slow,” Bradley said. “But then we had a good response, and I thought we picked things up in most of the second half.”
Once again, LAFC controlled the majority of the game after falling behind - pushing the tempo and creating dangerous chances, but could not break through for the decisive goal like they did against the Galaxy.
“Each game is different,” Bradley said. “I think that we have tried to take control early in the games, but there is always the part of how you start the concentration. Early in the game, you don't just get a chance to start to connect passes. You have to fight through the early parts of the game until you can get a little bit more control, and in those periods of the game, we have made mistakes and we have paid.”
Mark-Anthony Kaye was not overly concerned about the slow starts. “I think starting on the wrong foot of games, that doesn’t help us,” Kaye said. “But as everyone can see, we are a very good team when we have the ball and our football ideas are good. It is just little things that we’ve got to fix.”
BWP STRIKES AGAIN
Bradley Wright-Phillips is used to making history. He is the fastest player in MLS history to score 100 goals, reaching the century mark in just 159 games. He’s now seventh on the MLS All-Time goalscoring list, and he made history once again Thursday vs. the Timbers with his rocket of a shot in the 36th minute.
“[Bradley Wright-Phillips] is still someone around the goal who has got special qualities,” Bradley said. “There is even more I think he can continue to add. Tonight, the goal was good, and all in all, he's done a great job.”
Wright-Phillips has now scored a goal in his first three matches with the Black & Gold, becoming the first player in LAFC history to do so and continuing his assault on the MLS record books, now sitting just three goals behind LAFC assistant coach Ante Razov to reach number six on the all-time scoring list.
CHASE IS ON – MLS ALL-TIME GOAL SCORING LIST
6. Ante Razov 114
7. BWP 111
8. Jason Kreis 108
9. Dwayne De Rosario 104
10. Taylor Twellman 101
“Early in the season we saw good things and thought he would really fit in well,” Bradley said. “Once he started to get sharper and fitter; once he started to develop a good understanding with guys like Diego [Rossi] and Brian [Rodriguez], you could see that he could really be an important player for us and we've seen it in all three of these games.”
YOUTH IS SERVED
As an organization, LAFC has focused on finding, nurturing and developing electric young talent, and Thursday against Portland that was never more evident. The Club started its youngest starting lineup in Club history, as 21-year old Pancho Ginella got his first start of the tournament in midfield, moving Latif Blessing to the backline and veteran 34-year-old Dejan Jaković to the bench. That put the average age of the starting lineup at 23.0. Bradley Wright Phillips at 34, was a full nine years older than his next oldest teammate on the field, Mark Anthony Kaye (25).
LAFC defender Andy Najar came on as a substitute in the 67th minute, making his Black & Gold debut and playing the final 23 minutes vs. Portland.
“After not playing for so long, it feels great to be here finally, playing my first game.” Najar said after the match.
It was the first competitive game for Najar in over a year since he suffered a knee injury on June 5, 2019 in a friendly for Honduras vs. Paraguay. It was Najar’s first Club appearance since May 16, 2019 when he played for Belgian’s RSC Anderlecht.
“It was my first game, but I feel I did well with the minutes I was fortunate enough to have played,” Najar said. “We weren’t able to win, but these things happen in football and now we hope to win the next game.”
A former MLS Rookie of the Year with DC United in 2010, Najar is a dangerous player who enjoyed a stellar career in Belgium and a trip to the 2014 World Cup with Honduras. As he attempts to return to form after two serious knee injuries, LAFC is optimistic of what he can add to the Black & Gold.
“He is a player that we know is going to really help us when he gets back into it and is ready to move forward,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “We are very excited with what we see from him, we know he is a player who will fit in and really help us out.”
SOUNDERS ON TAP
It was one of the most bitter defeats in LAFC history, a favored Supporters' Shield winning Club falling 3-1 on Oct. 29, 2019 in the Western Conference Finals to the Seattle Sounders. The Seattle win set off a raucous celebration on the field in front of the Black & Gold faithful and propelled them to the 2019 MLS Cup.
Now, LAFC has a chance for revenge, facing Seattle once again in a knockout match situation on Monday night.
“Yeah, obviously we know who we are going to play next,” Kaye said. “We're excited to have an opportunity to play against Seattle considering what happened last year.”
In two seasons, LAFC has played in knockout rounds several times, advancing to the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in 2018 before falling in penalty kicks to Houston, and then losing in the quarterfinals of the Cup to Portland in 2019. In the MLS Cup Playoffs, LAFC dropped a shocking 3-2 decision at home to Real Salt Lake in 2018. In 2019, they defeated the Galaxy to win the Club’s first-ever playoff game before the loss against the Sounders.
“But, we don't focus too much on who we are playing,” Kaye said. “We just are excited to have another opportunity to play our football.”